Leader Blues

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

TOP STORY>> Banks still at odds on branch

IN SHORT: First Arkansas Bank and Trust is considering making an appeal in Pulaski County Circuit Court after the bank commissioner ruled that Bank of the Ozarks can build a branch in Jacksonville.

By Sara Greene
Leader staff writer

Bank of the Ozarks is set to complete its purchase of a property in Jacksonville after Arkansas Bank Commissioner Robert H. “Bunny” Adcock announced Monday that the bank can build a branch at 901 W. Main St. despite a protest from another bank, which says Jack-sonville’s economy cannot support more competition.

The new bank will be in Hastings Center, where the old Long John Silver’s restaurant now stands.

“We feel strongly that Jacksonville is a vibrant community, and we look forward to being an aggressive competitor,” said Donnie Farmer of Bank of the Ozarks, who will manage the new Jacksonville branch — unless First Arkansas Bank and Trust succeeds at keeping Bank of the Ozarks out of Jacksonville.

First Arkansas had filed a protest with Adcock’s office over the Jacksonville branch addition, citing an overcrowded field, and it has 30 days to appeal the commissioner’s order in Pulaski County Circuit Court.

“We will closely review the commissioner’s comments re-garding his decision on the application to determine how we proceed from here,” said Larry T. Wilson, chairman, chief executive officer and president of First Arkansas Bank and Trust. He was recently elected chairman of the Arkansas Bankers Association.

“Obviously, an appeal to circuit court is an option at which we will be looking,” Wilson added.

The order approving the Bank of the Ozarks Jacksonville branch comes nearly five months after the application was first submitted with the Arkansas State Bank Department on Dec. 28, 2004.

The bank department and the State Banking Board are responsible for the issuance of new charters, authorization of branches and other applications relating to ownership and structure of banks and bank holding companies.

First Arkansas Bank and Trust filed a formal protest against the application with Adcock’s office on Jan. 12.

Wilson said evidence shows that there is already significant banking competition in Jacksonville, citing six banks with 13 locations and the state’s largest credit union.

“There are also three brand new bank branches in Jacksonville that are in various stages of construction or have recently opened, our protest merely asked that the commissioner wait until these new branches proved to be viable before other new branches would be approved,” Wilson said.

Last year, Jacksonville-based First Arkansas Bank had a net income of $6.6 million and total assets of $268 million. The recent purchase of First Team Bank of Heber Springs will increase First Arkansas’ assets to about $500 million.

Bank of the Ozarks, a Little Rock-based bank, had a net income of $28.1 million and total assets of $1.7 billion.

Adcock and the Arkansas State Bank Department examined the application, protest and responses before deciding to allow Bank of the Ozarks to proceed with the Jacksonville branch.

“We’re excited about being in downtown Jacksonville across from the chamber of commerce, and I hope we can dress up that area and become a big part of the community,” said Farmer, senior vice president of Bank of the Ozarks.

According to the four-page order from Adcock’s office, Bank of the Ozarks’ Jacksonville branch would “not have a significant or highly adverse impact” on First Arkansas Bank and Trust or other financial institutions.

In addition to economic feasibility, the order said the Bank of the Ozarks’ newest branch would promote public convenience and necessity.

“We’re very pleased to get a positive decision from Mr. Adcock, and we’re looking forward to serving our customers in Jacksonville,” said Mark Ross, Bank of the Ozarks’ president, chief operations officer and vice chairman.